Arthur J. Altmeyer

Remarks Made on the American Forum of the Air

By Arthur J. Altmeyer
Chairman, Social Security Board
January 17, 1943

I believe that we should be thinking in terms of developing for this country a unified comprehensive system of contributory social insurance which would cover all of the major economic hazards to which the workers of this country are subjected, namely, old age, disability, death, and unemployment. We already have a Federal system providing protection against old-age and premature death and a Federal-State system providing some protection against unemployment, but we have no nationwide system providing protection against the hazards of ill health and disability. Under a unified comprehensive system of social insurance there would be no gaps, no overlaps, and no discrepancies in the protection afforded. Such a system could operate with a maximum degree of simplicity and efficiency, since there would be only one contribution, one report, one record, and one local office to which employers and employees could go to ascertain their rights and duties. The present Federal old-age and survivors insurance central record system, which already contains 68 million individual accounts, could be used for all insurance purposes. These accounts are now maintained at a cost of only 12 cents each per year. The nationwide network of offices of the Federal old-age and survivors insurance system and the offices of the United States Employment Service could be merged and used as the offices of the new system.

The contributory social insurance system should of course be extended to all employees and (except in the case of unemployment and temporary disability) should be extended to all self-employed persons as well. If this were done, we would be providing a minimum basic security for the people of this country upon which they would have a greater opportunity to build a higher degree of security through individual savings and private insurance. In other words, this minimum basic security would constitute a safety net protecting the workers of this country against these major economic hazards, not a feather bed releasing them from the necessity of helping themselves.

While I believe responsibility for the establishment and maintenance of a unified comprehensive system of social insurance should be centralized in the Federal Government, I believe that the actual administration of the system should be highly decentralized with representative advisory committees and appeals councils in the several States.

The cost of providing this basic security would not be excessive. If the cost were shared equally by employers and employees, contributions at the rate of 5 or 6 percent each would be sufficient for a long time to come. In my opinion such a plan would provide a maximum degree of protection to the people of this country at a minimum cost which could easily be borne because it would be spread evenly.